In the world of popular diets, Cabbage Soup is one of the most puzzling. It's unclear where the plan originated, but surprisingly, that hasn't stopped people from writing about it. The latest tome, The Ultimate Cabbage Soup Diet (John Blake, 2003), with its 12 green cabbages floating on a deep-blue background, details the regimen in intricate detail. There's the original soup recipe, plus a couple of ethnic variations. As an added bonus, the author offers 100 recipes for the fruits, vegetables, chicken, and fish allowed on "free days." Once dieters take a look at the book, they'll see that the diet is simple and straightforward. It's basically a seven-day menu plan built around a pot of homemade cabbage soup.
On a cold winter's day, a warm pot of soup makes a satisfying meal. But soup at every meal, day in and day out, for seven days straight is downright bizarre. There's nothing magical about cabbageor a fat-free cabbage soupthat melts away fat. Zeroing in on one food to the exclusion of others is probably what makes you lose weight. But you'll undoubtedly become sick of the soup and eat less and less of it. Less food equals fewer calories, and fewer calories means weight loss.
Dieters are encouraged to check with a physician before starting the plan. They then follow a precise seven-day regimen with specific foods on alternating days and two servings a day of a special homemade cabbage soup. The premise: Eat as much as you want, but from a small assortment of foods.
How the diet works:
The recipe makes 24 cups of soup; each cup carries a mere 66 calories. So a person who has 2 cups of soup per meal, a few cups of coffee, the allotted glass of milk, the fat-free salad dressing, and 6 pieces of fruit (2 apples, 2 oranges, 2 peaches) on day one will net 860 calories. On day five, the addition of a hefty 6-ounce portion of fish and 6 ounces of chicken could raise the calorie total as high as 1,030 for the day. But as dieters tire of the cabbage soup and free foods, calories could drop even lower than 800 per day. In short, this an extremely low-calorie diet.
What you can eat:
The list is short. Cabbage Soup. Cabbage Soup Italiano. Szechuan Cabbage Soup. Tex-Mex Cabbage Soup. You're also allowed unlimited coffee or tea, one (8-ounce) glass of skim milk or low-fat yogurt, and 1 tablespoon of low-fat or fat-free salad dressing per day. On alternating days, you can choose from a list of free foods. On day one, for example, dieters eat unlimited amounts of 22 free vegetables, everything from artichokes to cucumbers to turnips. On day five, it's unlimited amounts of chicken or fish.
Does the diet take and keep weight off?
Weight loss is a given since calories are so low, but it's unlikely that the pounds will stay off, particularly once you return to your old eating habits. Andno surprise herethere's not a shred of clinical or even anecdotal evidence to support the value of this regimen. All there is to go on is a vague statement in the book that "men and women across the world have had incredible success with this diet." Nevertheless, the author boldly claims you can lose 10 pounds in seven days.
Is the diet healthy?
No way. A diet that focuses on so few foods can't possibly provide all the nutrients you need. In fact, it lacks ample quantities of everything from fiber to protein to calcium.
What do the experts say?
"Sure, people lose weight with this diet. How much cabbage soup can anyone really eat?" asks registered dietitian Jackie Berning, an associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "My problem with the diet is that it doesn't teach people how to change the eating habits that made them gain weight in the first place." Oh, and the digestive repercussions of all that cabbage? "Your family will probably kick you out because of all the flatulence," Berning says. Baylor College of Medicine weight-loss expert John Foreyt, Ph.D., cuts to the chase. "It's silly," he says. "It's just about cutting calories. People will lose weight in the short term, but nobody can stick with it." Would he recommend it as a quick way to jump-start weight loss? "Of course not."
Who should consider the diet?
Nobody. This regimen is unsafe.
Sure, eating a steady diet of cabbage soup will peel off a few pounds over the short term, but they'll come back. Count on it.